Animism: Angels and Demons

FullSizeRender.jpgI can’t remember experiencing a demonic attack. I’ve heard stories, but have always responded with a degree of skepticism. I’m certain of the Bible’s teaching that there are evil forces at work in the world. The forces of Satan are opposed to the kingship and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. But spirits and demons have not been at the forefront of my Christian thinking or experience.

Today’s class was about animism: the belief that natural phenomena have souls or spirits. Think the spirit of a mountain or the lingering ghost of a dead relative. This worldview draws no distinction between the physical and the spiritual, because spirits are believed to influence every aspect of life. Whether you want to have a baby or just get to work safely, you need the spirits on your side. This probably sounds a bit strange to you, but it is an overwhelmingly universal worldview, impacting Africa, Asia, Latin America and beyond. It expresses itself in various indigenous religions, and forms of Islam, Buddhism and even Christianity.

Animism is fear based. People fear illness and death, so they try to keep the spirits happy. Life is lived trying to achieve power over the spirits, in order to get the life that I want. A world of witchdoctors, diviners and curses is a life of daily uncertainty and terror.

How will Christians respond to these beliefs? We certainly can’t ignore them! Nor should we fall into a form of Christian animism, believing that powerful people or spirits have authority over us. In our fear we need not seek a special formula for dealing with evil.

What does God say? In his word he reveals himself as the creator and sustainer of all things. So we know that angels and demons are created beings. We know that God is not distant from our daily lives, but works in all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose…to be conformed to the image of his Son.

And this Son is of course Jesus Christ. The gospels describe Jesus as the one who heals the sick and demon possessed. Colossians describes him as the one who disarms the powers and authorities, publically humiliating them through his death on the cross. Ephesians reveals the risen Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, both present and future.

As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, there will be times when we are afraid. The devil prowls like a lion, waiting to devour us. Yet we fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who is victorious over every evil spirit, every sinful inclination and even death itself. Let faith in him drive out every fear.

— Stef